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The Pleasures of the Flesh-Eater

So, I finished reading David Madsen's 'Memoirs of a Gnostic Dwarf'. Very entertaining, a good read, especially if you like rattlingly-bizarre historical fiction. I sort of feel it was a little disjointed, in a way - you would get a bit of grotesque sexually-explicit stuff, then a slab of history, then a gulping draught of Gnostic philosophy, then a bit more sex, and so on and so forth. Sometimes, the sex and the history were combined - or the sex and the Gnosticism. Not sure it worked as a whole entity, though the parts (and weren't there a lot of parts - my word!) were very good indeed. I like this man's writing style, and he is able to make you care for his characters - even the really disgusting ones. I must admit, though, that I am hard to please when it comes to historical fiction. Remember when I was super-disappointed by 'Richard Blake' and his oh-so-very-almost Aelric, the character who couldn't quite? (I still think fondly on Aelric, you know. Ah, what might have been!!) Well, this book does what those books didn't dare to, which is quite a relief all round! ;-)

Anyway, I liked it enough to immediately grab a copy of Mr Madsen's second novel - 'Confessions of a Flesh-Eater'. Having read (well, devoured, appropriately enough) the entire thing in record time, I am moved to say that this is the best book I've read in a while - or at least, the one I have most enjoyed, which is the only thing that really counts. Here we have a tale that is gorgeously, unctuously, exorbitantly horrid - deliciously so. A midnight feast composed of secrets and secretions! Our protagonist and narrator is the chef, the soi-disant genius, the amoral murderer, the gilded narcissist, the one, the only, Orlando Crispe. We follow his career, from the earliest stirrings of his longing for flesh - to consume it, to be one with it, to absorb it, as he puts it - via his culinary training (conventional and extra-curricular), his murders, his cannibalism, all the way to his prison cell. Along the way he shares his favourite recipes, some of which will make you reappraise Heston Blumenthal's most involute offerings as veritably vanilla. He also lays out his philosophy - 'Absorptionism' - which is, I suppose, the x-rated, anthropophagic version of the Circle of Life.

It's a funny book, too, which doesn't always go well with sensuality on this scale, but here it works magnificently. I particularly like the way Mr Madsen uses cliché - for example, he can introduce a character who is a Neo-Nazi sado-masochist, the very idea of which is quite groan-inducing, and have you not only laughing at the poor fellow but sympathising with him as well (him and his favourite stitched leather strap - because your straight-backed Aryan seeker after chastisement must have one of these!). There are no straightforwardly admirable or likeable characters in the entire thing; all of them are delightfully dreadful. And yet you can't really hate any of them - not even Orlando. He's so… he's so… earnest, I think is the word. And handsome: a trait he uses to his advantage at every opportunity. At last, the blond amoral anti-hero who could!

In some ways I am forced to compare this book with 'The Debt to Pleasure' by John Lanchester, another book I loved (and reviewed here), featuring another narcissistic, amoral gourmet as narrator. I think I like 'Confessions' more, however. There's something about this book that I'm having trouble pinning down here - it's certainly a wonderfully entertaining, elegantly gross affair, but there's more to it than that. Perhaps it's only that it has reminded me, yet again, of the sheer power of language. The sheer sensual potency of words. I want there to be more books like this - books that have savour, that are like food, that are intense and addictive, nourishing and fattening and mouthwatering. There must be more of them out there. Where do they lurk?! Tell me!! (I'm thinking some of 'em may well be hanging out at Dedalus Books, Mr Madsen's estimable publishers. Incidentally, I note whilst browsing their website that somebody has bought the film rights to 'Confessions of a Flesh-Eater'. I'm… flabbergasted. This is one of those books where, as you read, you are thinking, "They could never make a film of this!" I slightly hope they never try, because it could only ever be a bowdlerised disappointment or an icky-sticky spurt of not-quite-pornography.)

Yes, I have to say I am not fond of dry prose. (You could probably tell that from my own mode of expression!!) On the other hand, I don't like it to be slack and sloppy either. Well-marshalled, disciplined, but beaucoup de jus is how I want it, thank you. In an ideal world that goes for my dinner, too, though I'd rather not eat people unless I absolutely have to. Dang - there I go again, bein' all parochial 'n' petit-bourgeois 'n' moral… sorry, dear Maestro Orlando…!

…On which note, it's well past the time for a palate-cleansing cup of tea. I think you should have one, too. (Being Didactic Again!)

Eavesdrop, snoop, and sigh with yearning...

This journal is not a private diary, it is more like an occasional, imaginary column. Therefore, much of it is on public display. However, if you want to read my occasional attempts at creative writing, my Caution Elf tells me I should only show that stuff to my friends. You know what to do. :-)

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